Right-wing extremism in America is real, and it is growing. That doesn’t mean that it has changed its stripes — it is still what it has always been; old fashion bigotry, hatred, and the white supremacist belief that “white people are inherently better than others, supported by a broad system of inequality that ensures racial disparity of health, income, life, and freedom.”
For those who continue to believe in America’s ideals and the promise of freedom, there appears to be a growing realization that the nation’s two-party political system doesn’t just present two concepts of democracy, But that what we have is one party that continues to support democracy. We have another party where a vocal minority embracing autocracy as a right-wing extremism agenda may be overtaking the main body. This gives this journalist no pleasure in writing it. But it is what it is.
The extremist rhetoric we used to view as the far-right is no longer on the fringe; it is being mainstreamed by the Republican Party. How else can you explain that GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week ceded the gavel to white Supremacist-believer Marjorie Taylor Greene for a session of Congress while he was traveling?
There are many names for right-wing extremism, of course; neo-nazis, the white power movement, the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads, and antigovernment groups including the growing patriot movement (Patriot Front) and the election integrity groups.
Then there are the militant groups (who are in fact private armies, but who insist upon illegally calling themselves militias) such as Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Boogaloo Bois, The Base, Identity Eropa, the Atomwaffen Division, and the Oath Keepers who train and dress for combat.
Many of these far-right organizations have been listed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as domestic terrorist organizations. A Feb. 2023 bulletin by the National Terrorism Advisory System says that “The convergence of the following factors has increased the volatility, unpredictability, and complexity of the threat environment:
- The proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions;
- The continued calls for violence directed at U.S. critical infrastructure; soft targets and mass gatherings; faith-based institutions, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques; institutions of higher education; racial and religious minorities; government facilities and personnel, including law enforcement and the military; the media; and perceived ideological opponents.”
The Rise of Christian Nationalism
Lest any of us are lulled into thinking that all vestiges of right-wing belief systems are out there in some other community, they may be right at home here in Colorado.That’s because it now appears that the several threads that constitute right-wing extremism in America are beginning to consolidate and becoming “respectable” behind something that has come to be known as “Christian Nationalism.”
By being “white-washed” so to speak in religion, it appears to be attempting a move to the mainstream; both of the Republican Party and toward mainstream America.
On the Sunday after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Colorado Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert spoke to a Colorado church, complaining that, “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our founding fathers intended it. And I am tired of this separation of church and state junk. It’s not in the Constitution.”
As recently reported by NPR a piece of research by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution revealed that more than half of Republicans support “Christian Nationalism.”
The poll revealed that the other fringe belief systems are moving and have moved to the center, not in their beliefs, but in their appeal, by beginning to move under the umbrella of Christian Nationalism.
Researchers found that more than half of Republicans believe the country should be a strictly Christian nation, either adhering to the ideals of Christian nationalism (21 percent) or sympathizing with those views (33 percent). That totals 54 percent of all those who identify as Republicans also support Christian Nationalism.
Officially, Christian nationalism is a worldview that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that the country’s laws and system should therefore be rooted in Christian values. This, of course, is not true, at least not the interpretation of its current adherents.
Our Founding Fathers very clearly laid out their intent in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that this country would respect what has come to be known as “the five freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble and freedom to petition our government for grievances.
White evangelical Christians have been promoting the Christian Nationalism concept since the 1970s, but the term began to be used in the mainstream in 2022.
Now many now-prominent Republicans such as Taylor Greene have picked it up from the church voting blocs. It’s particularly popular given the overuse of the word “woke” by conservative politicians and evangelical groups.
Critics of it say this belief is used to promote a culture war that includes banned books and educational topics, including something called “Critical Race Theory” or CRT, (which is only taught in college masters-level courses). They point out that it discounts public education, even certain words and drag shows, and attempts to control other people’s bodies, minds, and rights.
A recent missive on Christian Nationalism put out by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood felt compelled to point out that patriotism must be ‘properly ordered love’ not ‘blind obedience'”.
Something might be wrong in paradise if people have to be reminded to think for themselves. The author of “Christian Reflections on Christian Nationalism” Mark David Hall, outlines what some would deem concerning justification of the use of the term, while sliding by the more concerning aspects of the phrase.
“Depending on who you ask, the term ‘Christian Nationalism’ is either a rallying cry to orient one’s civic life by the dictates of the Christian faith or a scapegoating smear accusing a broad swathe of politically conservative Christians of pursuing theocracy,” said Centennial Institute Director Jeff Hunt.
The rest of America is not necessarily on board with the concept, nor do they agree with that assessment.
According to that PRRI/Brookings study, only 10 percent of all Americans say they accept Christian Nationalism. Another 19 percent of Americans said they sympathize with these views. So with 29 percent of American adults saying they accept or sympathize with the idea, this still leaves a majority block of Americans who, it would appear, embrace America’s real promise of equality, freedom, and opportunity.
The same survey found correlations between people who hold Christian Nationalist views and who agree with anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic views, anti-gay, anti-Muslim and patriarchal views, to name a few prejudices.
In “Taking America Back for God”, Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry explain that Christian Nationalism is “an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture” that “includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism.”
While some would explain this away as an understandable reaction given the country’s changing demographics and fear of losing cultural and political power, others don’t buy that. After all, unless you are Native American, you and your ancestors are immigrants from somewhere else; this country was built on diversity and human potential, and it isn’t limited to being white-evangelical-Christian.
Mainline Churches Moving to Disavow Christian Nationalism
According to the PRRI 2020 Census of American Religion a majority, seven in ten Americans (70 percent) identify as Christian, including more than four in ten who identify as white Christian and more than one-quarter who identify as Christian of color. Nearly one in four Americans (23 percent) are religiously unaffiliated, and only five percent identify with non-Christian religions.
While those identifying as nondenominational and evangelical are increasingly embracing Christian Nationalism, the country’s mainline Christian denominations: Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians — even the conservative branches of these churches –have begun to distance themselves from those who preach Christian Nationalism. Leaders of these denominations say they identify “deeply antidemocratic impulses” that may be behind our government’s inability to achieve much in the way of bipartisan agreement.
The president of the most conservative of the three Lutheran Synods —The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) Matthew Harrison recently called for excommunicating white nationalists from the church. ‘This is evil. We condemn it in the name of Christ.” He identified far-right members as causing “local disruption” for congregations and alleged that LCMS leadership and deaconesses had fallen victim to online threats, some of which he described as “serious.”
This is a very big deal. In fact, in a message Harrison wrote on February 21, he said he was “shocked to learn recently that a few members of LCMS congregations have been propagating radical and unchristian ‘alt-right’** views via Twitter and other social media.”
The PRRI survey found correlations between people who hold Christian Nationalist views who also hold anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic views, anti-Muslim and patriarchal views.
Even some evangelical leaders are sounding the alarm. In an interview given to National Public Radio, the founder of The New Evangelicals Tim Whitaker, said he grew up in the church and now is spending his life trying to detangle these kinds of views from evangelical beliefs.
“We need to understand that the world of Christian Nationalism largely rejects pluralism, which this study shows,” he told NPR. “Most Christian Nationalists — either adherents or sympathizers — either agree or strongly agree with the notion that they should live in a country full of other Christians.”
Whitaker said he’s worried that these views now have deep roots in the Republican Party. “The reality is that a lot of these folks — especially the adherents — are very militant in this belief that God has given them the mandate to rule over the nation … for them, I think that compromise is a sign of weakness and the GOP needs to understand what they are dealing with.”
Editor’s note: It would appear that Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert has not read nor does she understand the U.S. Constitution.
- A Field Guide to White Supremacy
- Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), ix-x, 10.
- Christian Reflections on Christian Nationalism
- NPR Interview with Tim Whitaker
To my mind THE RISE OF SOCIALISM AND ITS THREAT TO DEMOCRACY is the real threat!
Along with about 1300 others, I recently joined a webinar sponsored by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (http://au.org) on the topic of Christian Nationalism. Their organization maintains a neutral position regarding religion, respecting the rights of all people to believe or not believe, and simply strives to protect those rights for all Americans while attempting to ensure that governmental agencies “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The webinar featured Mr. Jones, who reviewed the findings of the PRRI survey you’ve highlighted, along with key leaders from AU. One interesting point shared by Mr. Jones: “a super majority of Christian Nationalists (63% of adherents and 66% of sympathizers) in their poll claim to support church-state separation. Jones explained: ‘They don’t think they are violating this old civic idea of separation of church and state, even while they say all the laws in the U.S. should be based on Christian beliefs in the Bible.”(1)
Mr. Jones believes they have the same view of the figurative wall between church and state as Rep. Boebert: it’s just a one-way wall. Even former Baptist pastor Michael Chancellor, opining in the Baptist News, disagrees, writing that “Boebert has shown us how little she understands the faith she professes and, most recently, the Constitution she has sworn to protect and defend.”(2)
Thank you for posting about this important topic. In response to a recent commenter to another post, who wishes you would stick to local issues, I’d agree with you that this is an issue of democracy that should concern us all locally. I hope people take it seriously.
Roger France, Buena Vista, CO
It’s nice to see more community level reporting of this highly toxic anti-democracy ‘snake-oil’ by these so-called “Christians”. Mikey Weinstein founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org) to battle this ‘democracy poison’ within the U.S. Military since 2005 and has been LOUDLY calling out these “Christian” Dominionists/Nationalist trying to (and largely succeeding) in poisoning military leaders such has the disgraced and extremely dishonorable Gen. Michael Flynn.
Alright, I’m done. I subscribed to the Arkvalleyvoice to hear about local events relevant to all the residents of the area. Not to listen to you use it as a bully pulpit for your left-wing ideology. Truly disappointing. Btw: https://www.counterextremism.com/sites/default/files/supremacy_landing_files/U.S.%20FarLeft%20Extremist%20Groups_PDF_083122.pdf